Comics – Index of Multi-Panel Pans by Decade
I am curious to understand where and how certain types of comic book and comic strip sequences and techniques got their start and how they grew and became part of comics vernacular.
I’ve calling these sequences (like the one on the right) “multi-panel pan sequences” or just “multi-panel pans” or “multi-pans.” They’re also called “polyptychs” from Scott McCloud‘s book Understanding Comics or “super panels” from Michel Fiffe. Earlier I wrote a bit about these sequences, by Paul Gulacy, Moore and Gibbons, and by Walt Simonson.
I’ll define a multi-panel pan sequence as “two or more consecutive comic book panels sharing the same background, each separated by a gutter.” A gutter is that white (or sometimes black) space between the panels. Scott McCloud describes a polyptych as “where a moving figure or figures — is imposed over a continuous background.” Fiffe describes a super panel as “panels that are broken into fragments in order to delay time, build tension, or reveal story details.”
For now, I am going to break these out by decade (maybe break that down more finely later, if it gets crowded.) For each of these pages, I’ve posted example images in publication date order. This is all a work-in-progress… I keep spotting these and adding new stuff (and there are way too many zillion of these to keep up with.)
- 1900s (Winsor McKay, Lyonel Feininger, etc.)
- 1930s (Frank King)
- 1940s (Harvey Kurtzman, etc.)
- 1950s (Bill Everett, Dick Sprang, etc.)
- 1960s (Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Herb Trimpe, etc.)
- 1970s (Neal Adams, Paul Gulacy, Walt Simonson, etc.)
- 1980s (Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc.)
- 1990s (Alan Moore, Craig Thompson, etc.)
- 2000s (Craig Thompson, etc.)
- 2010s (Carolyn Nowak, etc.)
I am not going to try to do an encyclopedia of all multi-panel pans. Even just finding and scanning and documenting all the ones in Moore and Gibbon’s Watchmen would take me months. Some time in the mid-1980s these become fairly common, arguably even overused, by quite a few comic book artists. I am mainly interested in where they occur before 1980, when they were still somewhat rare. I am interested in how they emerged and how and why they caught on.
I’ve developed my own terminology for three kinds of faulty or questionable multi-pans: (None of these are absolutely always wrong… but I think they’re sometimes lazy, sometimes wrong.)
- gratuitous multi-pans (unnecessary gutters.)
- motion-logic inconsistent multi-pans (multi-pans that don’t make sense in terms of character movement through space.)
- cheats (multiple “exposures” within a single panel of a multi-pan – so the panel might not quite stand alone.)
I am also curious about:
- the earliest use of this technique (earliest I’ve found is Lyonel Feininger in 1906)
- earliest use of these for a specific artist or specific character or comic book or strip (ie: Gulacy’s earliest multi-panel pan in MOKF)
- some similar tricks that are kinda like multi-panel pans, but not quite, perhaps antecedents (for example, see this 1954 Sub-Mariner sequence)
- novel uses (sort of sub-genres) of this technique – cheats, multiple-exposures, experiments, etc.*
- use of this technique in non-superhero comics (ie: in Craig Thompson’s Blankets)
- use of this technique by artists not known for it (ie: I’ve never seen any of these by Jack Kirby)
- use of this technique by non-U.S. publications (ie: Japanese manga)
- and just very cool-looking multi-pans!
*One more note on terminology: Where each panel of the sequence can stand individually, I call it just a multi-panel pan sequence. I call it a “cheat” or an “overlap” when there’s a multiple-exposure panel within the pan sequence (I kinda explained that here), which is actually pretty common… so it’s probably not really cheating. I hope to do a glossary/definition page at some point.